faith when we can’t see

By faith Abraham, when called to go to a place he would later receive as his inheritance, obeyed and went, even though he did not know where he was going.

Hebrews 11:8

Sometimes in the midst of life, we feel like we’re in a place in which we’re not sure what is going on, or the exact outcome. Perhaps this is during a time of significant changes. And life always includes difficulties which result from living in an incomplete, broken world, our own limitations and shortcomings contributing to that.

That is when we need to grasp and hold on to the same kind of faith our father Abraham had. We continue faithful as best we know to the calling God has given us, to what’s in front of us, obedient to the Lord, even when we lack the kind of certainty most of us would like. We can learn to rest assured in God’s promise, confident in his protection and care, and ultimately of a good outcome, honoring to God and helpful to others. In and through Jesus.

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holding on to what lasts

“See, I will create
    new heavens and a new earth.
The former things will not be remembered,
    nor will they come to mind.

Isaiah 65:17

Essentially what seems to be at the heart of this picture is the curse of Genesis 3 being removed in what is nothing less than a new creation. Maybe making the old new, or making something brand new that has similarities to the old. Different, either way.

So much that occupies our minds is destined to be forgotten forever. I know this application is not quite what the passage above is getting at, but it’s nevertheless apt from it, I think. What I’m thinking of is perhaps made more clear by our Lord’s words in the parable of the sower:

Still others, like seed sown among thorns, hear the word; but the worries of this life, the deceitfulness of wealth and the desires for other things come in and choke the word, making it unfruitful.

Mark 4:18-19

This reminds us of our Lord’s teaching in the Sermon on the Mount, telling us to store up for ourselves treasures in heaven, rather than treasures on earth, and not to worry about material provisions since we are in the Father’s care. But instead, to seek first God’s kingdom and righteousness, knowing all of our needs will be met (Matthew 6:19-34).

There is no question that we have responsibilities on earth that we would just as soon forget even now. But insofar as they are connected to that which lasts, we need to do as well as we can in fulfilling such.

What lasts is the love of God that is in Jesus and present to us by the Spirit. We want to live in that love, and share that love with everyone, particularly our families, where often the rubber meets the road as to just what kind of people we really are, and more importantly, are becoming. And we have special responsibility to them. I think of Paul’s words:

Anyone who does not provide for their relatives, and especially for their own household, has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.

1 Timothy 5:8

So we can’t shirk our duties in the name of devotion to God, and think we are devoted to God. But in the midst of that, we must put first things first. Doing the best we can, realizing that in this life, much of it will be a crap shoot, meaning neither fool proof nor assured. But in all of that seeking to hold on to that which will last. A prayer in the Book of Common Prayer is helpful here:

Grant us, Lord, not to be anxious about earthly things, but to love things heavenly; and even now, while we are placed among things that are passing away, to hold fast to those that shall endure; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

not letting the pressing duties of life get to us

 Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.

John 14

Life is pressure, period. Work is never entirely predictable, and even when it is, that predictability might have us living on the edge at times. And if you “own” a home, in some ways the home owns you as well, because if there isn’t one thing, there’s another to look after to maintain it. On top of this, there are always possible things to worry about on the side. Like is one’s car safe enough? Or where is the money (and/or time) going to come from for the next need. For those who have plenty of money in store, there are always potential problems, as well. In this world, there’s no short supply of that.

First of all we might say, yes, we need to do the best we can to do what we can, and certainly take care of what absolutely has to get done (like a house roof, which for me of course, means hiring a company to do it). But we as Christians do all of this as those on mission in Jesus for the gospel. That is our chief concern, indeed the passion that drives us, the very life we have in Jesus, which we would like in love to share with others.

Jesus imparted words of strength and comfort to his disciples on the eve of his crucifixion (see John 13-17 for that entire time in John’s gospel account). And even though they were Jesus’s appointed messengers and representatives of the gospel, we as Jesus’s followers can receive those same words for ourselves, since we too, even though not set apart in the same way, still are present as receivers and sharers of the gospel.

Jesus gives us his peace, and at the same time tells us not to let our hearts be troubled nor afraid. Even if we’re caught up in fear, we can let go of it by the Lord’s strength in the peace which he gives, and live in that peace once more, trusting in him to help us through whatever situation we might be in, as well as life in general. Including trusting even when things don’t go well.

Something I am learning, and want to hold on to in and through Jesus.

losing one’s nerve

They came back to Moses and Aaron and the whole Israelite community at Kadesh in the Desert of Paran. There they reported to them and to the whole assembly and showed them the fruit of the land. They gave Moses this account: “We went into the land to which you sent us, and it does flow with milk and honey! Here is its fruit. But the people who live there are powerful, and the cities are fortified and very large. We even saw descendants of Anak there. The Amalekites live in the Negev; the Hittites, Jebusites and Amorites live in the hill country; and the Canaanites live near the sea and along the Jordan.”

Then Caleb silenced the people before Moses and said, “We should go up and take possession of the land, for we can certainly do it.”

But the men who had gone up with him said, “We can’t attack those people; they are stronger than we are.” And they spread among the Israelites a bad report about the land they had explored. They said, “The land we explored devoursthose living in it. All the people we saw there are of great size. We saw the Nephilim there (the descendants of Anakcome from the Nephilim). We seemed like grasshoppers in our own eyes, and we looked the same to them.”

That night all the members of the community raised their voices and wept aloud. All the Israelites grumbled against Moses and Aaron, and the whole assembly said to them, “If only we had died in Egypt! Or in this wilderness! Why is the Lord bringing us to this land only to let us fall by the sword?Our wives and children will be taken as plunder. Wouldn’t it be better for us to go back to Egypt?” And they said to each other, “We should choose a leader and go back to Egypt.”

Numbers 13-14

In this account in Numbers, it was God who commanded Israel to send some men into the promised land to either “explore” (NIV) or “spy out” (NRSV) the land. So Moses sent out one leader from each of the tribes of Israel (minus Levi, Manasseh making up for that as one of the tribes of Joseph, Ephraim, the other tribe). We know the story. Ten returned with a firm “but” after praising what was good about the land, and spread among the Israelites “a bad report.” They most certainly lost their nerve.

One can surmise clearly that they were not men of faith. After all, God had promised this land; that Israel was to take it, and settle in it should have been a foregone conclusion. Actually the exploration may have been for a two-fold purpose of encouraging the people to anticipate the blessing they were to soon experience, and to give them a heads up on the faith needed. Unfortunately, even though ten men went in who were leaders of the tribes, not one of them had the sufficient faith to actually believe God’s word. Whatever faith any one of them might have had was surely defective at best. It’s the same as if I would say, “Well yes, Jesus died, they say he rose again, but I really can’t buy the idea that we therefore are saved given all the evil in this world. I can respect religious people who say otherwise, but I can’t go there myself. Let’s either avoid it, or pull out all the stops to make sure as much as possible that we’re not victims ourselves.”

Caleb and Hosea (Joshua) were the two exceptions. Caleb being the older of the two spoke up and plainly contradicted the bad report of the ten. He believed they could and therefore should, certainly because of the promise of God. But he was outnumbered, and the Israelite as a community was unfortunately not predisposed to faith. Even though they had just witnessed mighty signs and wonders in their redemption from Egypt, their default position was to doubt God’s word, and therefore to doubt both God’s goodness, as well as greatness. They essentially saw themselves as on their own. And they had exceedingly short memories, even wanting to go back to Egypt, to the bondage which eventually would again surely overtake them there.

I can lose nerve, too. Where can we begin as to what? There’s no end to it, really. There’s always plenty of reasons to doubt God’s promise in this life, to think of some worse case scenario, or many more likely outcomes which are not good. Rather than to accept God’s promise in Jesus along with the difficulties in this life which come with it.

Depending on how you see what was going on at the time, the Israelites would be moving into a hostile territory armed, and depending on God for God’s deliverance from those entrenched in what was to be their own land. According to the narrative, the time for God’s judgment on the inhabitants had come, and how God carried that out, or wanted to is not necessarily all together clear, biblically and theologically speaking. Maybe the Lord meant to send them packing in some way. But the narrative is clear that at least the Israelites thought that God was commanding them to wipe out all the inhabitants of the land. And since I tend to accept the text at face value, I simply accept what I can’t understand, and frankly try to avoid the subject in public. But see Greg Boyd’s recent book, Cross Vision: How the Crucifixion of Jesus Makes Sense of Old Testament Violence for what I tend to think will be a compelling defense of reinterpreting the text of scripture, while I await critiques, and intend to read the entire book myself, which was released just this month.

We must not lose nerve, but hold to the faith, meaning both to our confession as well as our practice of it, continuing to do that. And when we do lose nerve, we simply confess that, and seek to learn from it. Entrusting ourselves to the God who has revealed himself in Jesus.

learning the greater lesson

One of the teachers of the law came and heard them debating. Noticing that Jesus had given them a good answer, he asked him, “Of all the commandments, which is the most important?”

“The most important one,” answered Jesus, “is this: ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.”

“Well said, teacher,” the man replied. “You are right in saying that God is one and there is no other but him. To love him with all your heart, with all your understanding and with all your strength, and to love your neighbor as yourself is more important than all burnt offerings and sacrifices.”

When Jesus saw that he had answered wisely, he said to him, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.” And from then on no one dared ask him any more questions.

Mark 12

There actually is no more basic fundamental lesson than to learn to trust God.

And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.

Hebrews 11

But it doesn’t stop there, as Jesus’s words about the first and greatest commandment, and the second like it, indicate. It’s all actually a part of the same package. We can’t enter into the greater so to speak, except through faith, through trusting in God. Sometimes, though, we can become so preoccupied over our own issues and concerns, that we can lose sight of the bigger picture, and the overall goal to which we should be headed. Paul’s words point us toward that:

I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead.

Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me.

Philippians 3

What I’m wanting to get at in this post is both the command to love, which is relational, and the importance of simply getting to know God. Paul’s words about that are interesting.

So in my struggle at times to trust, it should be with the goal of loving and knowing God in and through Jesus. And loving my neighbor as myself. Maybe that’s why at times we struggle, because we lose sight of that, and are self-centered (James 4:3). Faith is the entry way, which essentially is a trust in God at rock bottom. And being in good, growing relationships with God and others is the goal, in and through Jesus.

trusting in the Lord does not mean throwing caution to the wind

Trust in the Lord with all your heart
and lean not on your own understanding;
in all your ways submit to him,
and he will make your paths straight.

Do not be wise in your own eyes;
fear the Lord and shun evil.
This will bring health to your body
and nourishment to your bones.

Proverbs 3

Perhaps it should go without saying, though I think we have to tell the truth to ourselves and each other, that we simply don’t throw caution to the wind when we’re trusting in the Lord. In a strange sense we do in that we no longer want to act out of fear, or be led by that, except for a proper fear of God which is altogether different. Not to say that we don’t lock the doors of our house, or latch the windows at night, surely out of common sense, and not out of our own human emotion of fear.

When God’s leading might coincide with what we might ordinarily do, left to ourselves, than I can well imagine that the enemy’s accusing breath might be near, with some choice words to put us in our place. But the breath and voice of God are different. There is no doubt that under God’s leading there is quite a lot that we won’t do, and then other things we will, that without that leading would not have been the case. A key component in this is to wait on God in prayer. Our thought might be good, but the way of carrying it out, even if one is thinking only of the timing, may not be that good. We need to wait on God in trust that somehow God will direct us.

Obviously we don’t throw caution to the wind by doing what we feel like doing, and then attributing that to the Lord’s leading. There are times when any one of us might be susceptible to this. For example, we might like someone of the opposite sex whose looks might appeal to us. Of course that doesn’t mean we act on that impulse in a way which violates our covenant with our spouse and with God. In fact we reject such feelings as in any way offering us guidance as to what we can or even should do. Instead we submit ourselves to the truth of God’s word, even when that might go against our feelings at the time. Perhaps particularly for guys, and I’m thinking of a business trip alone in a motel, that might mean spending time in the word, and listening to the kind of music we enjoy, rather than watching at best a questionable movie, or even going to some pornographic website.

Our goal is to follow the Lord’s leading in all things. Part of that leading may be the freedom to make some decisions in collaboration with others in such a way which ends up agreeable to all. And that would include decisions within the family especially involving the wife and husband where there might be a disagreement, or different way of seeing things. Instead of jumping to one conclusion or another, it would seem best to spend some time together in prayer on the matter, and both pray separately with the goal of arriving to some place of peace between the two, all the while seeking the Lord on it for direction. Some things might be a matter of choice, and what might be best is for both to pray and reach some kind of peace together, seeking to find what’s best in the Lord’s eyes, all things considered. A considerable amount of wisdom beyond what any of us possesses in ourselves will be needed. Of course in answer to prayer God is always willing to grant that (James 1).

And so there will be times and matters in which we’re not sure what we should or shouldn’t do. Just because we are committed to the Lord’s leading in all things, doesn’t mean that everything will be easy. Perhaps while what we’re thinking may be alright, someone else has to work through it as well. And in the process both can grow. Relationships pleasing to God, as well the goal of complete trust in God must always be at the heart of what we’re about, along with the mission of God which is ours in Jesus as well, in terms of the gospel.

Properly understood, we don’t throw caution to the wind. Even as we continue to commit ourselves to being led by God in all things. In and through Jesus.

dependence on God and the peace that follows

You will keep in perfect peace
    those whose minds are steadfast,
    because they trust in you.
Trust in the LORD forever,
    for the LORD, the LORD himself, is the Rock eternal.

Isaiah 26:3; NIV

You will keep the mind that is dependent on you
in perfect peace,
for it is trusting in you.
Trust in the LORD forever,
because in the LORD, the LORD himself, is an everlasting rock!

Isaiah 26:3; CSB

You keep completely safe the people who maintain their faith,
for they trust in you.
Trust in the LORD from this time forward,
even in Yah, the LORD, an enduring protector!

Isaiah 26:3; NET Bible

The NET Bible note on one key difference in the translation we’re focusing on here (see the entire note for explanation of why the nation is in view rather than individuals):

In this context שָׁלוֹם (shalom, “peace”), which is repeated for emphasis, likely refers to national security, not emotional or psychological composure (see vv. 1-2).

We are blessed today with reasonably priced Bible tools on line. My guess is that the Logos Bible software is as good as they come, but I haven’t looked into it. Yet it’s amazing what we have at our fingertips that is completely free (the first level of Logos is free as well). I use Bible Gateway, and sometimes the NET Bible with its substantial extensive notes.

Putting all of this together on this well known verse of scripture, it seems that what is probably spoken of here is the shalom which includes all human flourishing. Yes, safety from enemies, in the note above, “national security,” but contrary to that note, “emotional” and “psychological composure,” as well. The Hebrew Bible context of shalom is a fulfillment of what a people, including individuals were created to be: blessed to be a blessing. So that actually both the NET Bible rendering, along with the more traditional understanding of that passage are likely apt together. Although the same word can have different meaning depending on its context.

A key help for me is from the CSB rendering which brings out the need for dependence on God. Add to that this insight from John N. Oswalt in the first volume of his outstanding Isaiah commentary:

To experience the security of God’s city one thing is required: a fixed disposition of trust. This is the opposite of James’s “double-minded man” (Jas. 1:6-8) or Jesus’ servant of two masters (Matt. 6:24). This person has cast himself upon God without any reservation. To trust one’s ability partly and God partly is the surest prescription for insecurity and anxiety (8:11-22; 57:19-21). That person will never know the wholeness (shalom) which having all his or her commitments in one place may mean. This is not to say that we denigrate or deny God-given abilities. But it is to say that we refuse to believe the lie that we are independent and have in ourselves the keys to ultimate success in life. The person who…steadfastly looks to God can know an inner oneness which makes possible a confident outlook on the darkest scene. For our mortality, short-sightedness, and weakness, we receive in exchange God’s immortality, omniscience, and omnipotence. That is security.

So the crux of the matter of entering into and holding on to a faith which lives in this peace is a complete dependence on God. Of course not denying our own abilities, but not depending on them, either. Our very thoughts as well as actions are to be dependent on God, and not on ourselves, or anyone else. That’s of course not to say that God won’t use other’s thoughts, maybe even our own seemingly, to direct us. The point that must not be lost by us is that we need to commit ourselves to a dependence on God which is fixed, regardless of how we feel and the circumstances we are going through. It involves a commitment which is to help us to a fixed disposition in which we live.

One of my go to passages again comes to mind:

Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Philippians 4:6-7

That is one concrete way we can deal with the inevitable problems and troubling thoughts that will come our way. And we’re to cast what burdens we have on the Lord.

For me, again, the bottom line is dependence. If I depend on God, I won’t be depending at all on myself. If there’s even a little dependence on me, then my dependence on God for all intents and purposes is null and void, empty.  And in all of this as God’s people, when we consider the Isaiah 26 passage along with the rest of the Bible, we’re all in this together, so that somehow there is an interdependency among us all. One indication in Galatians 6 where we’re told to carry each other’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.

And so if I am troubled over something, that’s a sure sign that I need to hand what troubles me over to God, to relinquish any thought that I might somehow be able to figure out and fix the problem. Of course, I may factor into God’s answer. But my part and set disposition should be to trust it entirely into God’s hands and therefore to simply do nothing, to let it go. Until I get a sense of what God might want me to do.

Something I continue to aspire to and work on so as to confirm and grow in the change into which I’ve recently entered. In and through Jesus.